LINCOLN, NEB., NOV. 21 -- Righteously profane Oklahoma, a team with wounded knees but tremendous pride, accomplished the surprise of the college football season today. The No. 2 Sooners lacked starting quarterback Jamelle Holieway and fullback Lydell Carr, but defeated top-ranked Nebraska anyway, 17-7, at a hugely overconfident Memorial Stadium to win the Big Eight title and a place in the Orange Bowl.
In what was a shock to the record crowd of 76,663, but not to Oklahoma, the Sooners (11-0) now will play No. 3 Miami to likely decide the national championship on New Year's Day. It was an occasion that sent Holieway scurrying to a phone, where he dialed frantically as he arranged a party.
The healthy and much chastened Cornhuskers (9-1) lost this annual rivalry for the fourth straight year and are relegated to the Fiesta Bowl against Florida State. In a game they and many others claimed they would win convincingly, they were instead dominated. This was no reprise of the Game of the Century, the 1971 contest that the Cornhuskers won by 35-31. It was a game of the mouth, and the Cornhuskers had theirs convincingly shut by a team with adept redshirt freshman Charles Thompson at quarterback, and a marvelous defense.
"We played a basic offense and a basic defense, and they got a basic butt-kicking," defensive end Darrell Reed said.
Oklahoma was rightfully proud of its most important victory, which came without the most crucial elements of its offense in Holieway and Carr, who suffered ligament damage in their knees two weeks ago. But Thompson and fullback Rotnei Anderson proved adequate replacements, and left the rest to veteran halfbacks Anthony Stafford and Patrick Collins, who each scored a touchdown in the third quarter after the Sooners had trailed, 7-0, at halftime and given up two fumbles and an interception.
Stafford broke loose on an 11-yard scoring with 12:48 left in the third quarter to tie the game before Collins loped for a 65-yard touchdown with 1:39 left in the period. R.D. Lashar had a 27-yard field goal with 7:40 remaining, the last points of the game.
Ultimately, however, it was Oklahoma's No. 1 ranked defense that won it, holding Nebraska to Keith Jones' 25-yard scoring run with 1:28 left in the first quarter. The Cornhuskers went through 12 consecutive possessions with only two first downs, while quarterback Steve Taylor threw three interceptions, two to defensive back Rickey Dixon.
"I don't know what I have to apologize for, but I still feel kind of apologetic," said Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne, 4-12 against Oklahoma since he took over in 1973.
Nebraska's sense of loss was mixed with one of total confusion. Merely everything had seemed in its favor, from the record crowd to the gorgeous football weather to the apparently dire condition of Oklahoma's offense. Even Sooners Coach Barry Switzer voted Nebraska No. 1 in the polls this week, saying Oklahoma didn't deserve it. Instead, the Cornhuskers were outgained by 444 yards to 295 and gained only 11 first downs to 23 for Oklahoma.
"There was no Sooner magic, we didn't need it," Switzer said. "We just dominated."
Osborne and most of the Cornhuskers probably felt like apologizing for their incessant talk over the course of the week. They had insulted Oklahoma on both sides of the ball, tight end Tom Banderas predicted a 42-10 score, and defensive end Broderick Thomas railed about "our house," his protective term for Memorial Stadium.
Conviction in a victory was so great that it was all over road signs leading to the stadium: "Amy Says NU 35, OU 10." A white sheet hung in the stadium proclaiming itself a "Sooner Crying Towel." Another sign mocked Switzer, who suffered strained knee ligaments when he was hit in the sidelines against Missouri: "Barry, Break A Leg."
Consider then, Oklahoma's reaction after enduring those predictions. The I told-you-so's swirled around the locker room. Seniors like defensive end Reed now have beaten Nebraska not only four years in a row, but also three times in Lincoln, and in all sorts of adverse circumstances.
"They ought to just give me the keys," Reed said. "I personally couldn't live with the embarrassment after talking all the noise they did. A wise old man told me once, the higher you go up the pole, the more your butt will show. Today they showed their butt."
Prior to the game, Oklahoma's defense had pleaded with the offense to just give it 20 points with no turnovers (Oklahoma fumbled eight times, losing the ball three times), and they would do the rest. In Thompson's and Anderson's first starts last week against Missouri, they had given up two fumbles each in what became a scary, narrow 17-13 victory.
That was what caused the Sooners' fall to No. 2 in the polls. Skepticism about Thompson in particular abounded, and Nebraska's Taylor had said Oklahoma didn't "belong on the same field." But Thompson proved a poised, rapid-dire operator of the wishbone, rushing for 126 yards with no errors. Collins gained 131 yards, Anderson 119 and Stafford 43.
"They underestimated my ability," Thompson said. "They told me I was a young boy, not ready to step in. My message to them was: 'They've seen Charles Thompson as a player and there's three more years of him.' "
But what the Sooners feared most occurred on their very first possession, when they drove 72 yards to the Nebraska 8, only to watch Anderson fumble. It was the beginning of a curious half in which the Sooners drove four straight times into Nebraska territory, only to give the ball away on another Anderson fumble, Lashar's missed field goal attempt and a Thompson interception.
But Nebraska couldn't capitalize on any of it, Jones' touchdown coming on a grueling 84-yard drive that took 10 plays. The Sooners were thrilled to be trailing by just 7-0 at intermission.
Nebraska then opened the second half with a turnover. On third and 10 at the Nebraska 20, Taylor looked for Dana Brinson and threw into a crowd. Oklahoma cornerback Derrick White tipped it into the hands of Dixon, who returned it 24 yards up the middle of the field to the Nebraska 13. One play and 41 seconds later, Thompson pitched to Stafford, who accelerated around the corner and found the sideline cleared out, vaulting into the end zone.
"When I caught the ball, I saw everybody on the ground, and I told myself to just use my speed," Stafford said.
With Nebraska punting after three downs on its next possession, the Sooners seized the initiative again. The Sooners took over on their own 20 with 4:29 left in the third period and got the break for which they were waiting. On third and five at the 35, Thompson pitched wide left to Collins, who cut the corner and sliced between Nebraska defensive end Thomas and safety Brian Washington, who fell prey to reserve running back John Green's block. Once Collins cleared them down the left sideline, there was no one left.
"It was one of those things where everyone just did their job," Collins said. "Charles made the read and the pitch, and then it's my job to turn upfield. I felt a guy grab my back but I just ran."
Lashar's 27-yard field goal came with 7:40 in the third quarter. The Huskers would get other chances, but the last of them ended when linebacker Dante Jones got the third interception of Taylor on the Nebraska 19 with 2:49 left (Lashar then missed a 35-yarder to the right). Taylor, proclaimed by some the best quarterback in the conference, completed six of 18 passes for 58 yards and rushed for 54 yards.
"It's tough," he said. "I said a lot of things before the game . . . I'm tired of saying we're going to beat them and all this stuff and then we lose. There's nothing we can say except they beat us."
Oklahoma 0 0 14 3 17 Nebraska 7 0 0 0 7
N -- K. Jones 25 run (Drennan kick), 13:32 Third Quarter
O -- Stafford 11 run (Lashar kick), 2:12
O -- Collins 65 run (Lashar kick), 13:21 Fourth Quarter
O -- FG Lashar 27, 7:20
A -- 76,663
Oklahoma Nebraska First downs 23 11 Rushes-yards 70-419 41-177 Passing yards 25 58 Return yards 54 18 Passing 2-9-1 6-18-3 Punts-average 5-38 9-46 Fumbles-lost 8-3 0-0 Penalties-yards 5-15 5-47 Time o
RUSHING -- Oklahoma: Collins 13-131, C. Thompson 21-126, Anderson 24-119, Stafford 12-43. Nebraska: K. Jone
PASSING -- Oklahoma: C. Thompson 2-9-1, 25 yards. Nebraska: Taylor 6-18-3, 58.
RECEIVING -- Oklahoma: Jackson 1-21, Stafford 1-4. Nebraska: Bell 2-18, Millikan 1-17, Hawkins 1-9, R. Smit
MISSED FIELD GOALS -- Oklahoma: Lashar 45, 36.